Harry Potter: The revolution that never happened?

harrypSince Harry Potter it feels as though there has been a revolution in the world of children’s publishing. This was a genre that JK was warned would never make her rich. It was the forgotten, overlooked little cousin to real writing; not so much derided, as rather indulged nostalgically. Now, it has not only reinvented itself but publishing as a whole. It’s got the attention of the younger generation, a generation who are as likely to dream of being Stephanie Meyer as they are to aspire to be Rihanna.

Now sitting in the age group who is officially allowed to look back with misty eyes on my childhood (tho not to groan getting out of a chair…honestly people…) I’m not, like some, feeling pissed off at the new in-genre. I quite like the idea of writing kids books. It has always seemed that great children’s stories have something universal at their heart, something that never ages, a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. They ask questions rather than give answers, regardless of genre they are all mysteries and adventures, whereas adult literature can often feel more like a chore. Even when they seek to entertain there is something prosaic about them, as if in adulthood we have become so rooted in the expected patterns of life, literature and love that we can’t really, even in our greatest flights of fantasy, ever really free ourselves.

For me the issue is not that this genre is getting attention, it is that much of it is really adult lit in disguise. Twilight is not the wonder of falling for a creature beyond our ken and becoming lost in his world, a metaphor for the transition to adulthood made real and fun.. It is an adult woman with an adult woman’s sensibilities who is seeking to escape the world, not understand or explore it. The emphasis is on being overwhelmed and surrendering, not on taking charge and pushing your own limits – an adult’s daydream not a child’s adventure. And it is this – these elements – which are being replicated in their thousands. Why? Because they are easy to understand and recreate, because they are driven by their own tired stressed lives? Or – and don’t shoot me – because they don’t have a writer’s wonder?

In the world of vampires no one lost themselves more thoroughly than Anne Rice. Not my cup of blood, I prefer tea, but she never offered us answers, only a world, real as our own, filled with questions. It was this, even as a child, I can remember thirsting for. To me, the writer must have that same wonder and imagination. And great books, for me, must offer something more than a bored housewife’s daydream. twilight

Harry Potter, perhaps befitting the book that began it all, was precisely what I was looking for. I truly believe this book will become a classic, while most of its successors will pass into obscurity. Unfortunately the lessons that could have been learned from it, weren’t. The depth and texture of this world and the characters within it are up there with the best fantasy in adult literature. The thought she put into building this world would put a city planner to shame. She never talked down to her readership. If her morality was simplistic, it was still secondary to providing a great story. The limits of magic represent the limits of life, not the limits of her imagination; the needs of the characters reflect the needs of the characters, not the needs of the writer.

There used to be no divisions within kid’s writing – a story was a story. Now I am beginning to see one – that between the younger slighter ditties which function as educational tools and the schlocky romances read more by women 18+ than kids. And like the division in the adult world between genre and litfic I fear that the stuff that certainly I want to see, is slipping into the crack. quiddith

Kids aren’t stupid but they are often isolated. Life can pile in on top of you and everything is twice as terrifying first time round. Reading can be a hand that pulls you through – but not if it is an adult lecturing you, or worse, so busy with their own needs they forget all about you.


9 thoughts on “Harry Potter: The revolution that never happened?

      1. those weren’t really what I was talking about. I was referring specifically to how you structure a novel and what elements enhance the read as opposed to life lessons. And even more specifically to the rules that are still cited to most aspiring writers.

        For example, the HP series started with a book around 80k words yet most agents will still cite they want a book around 40-60k for the 9-12 market. I don’t think what JK did could be done in such a low word count.

        And if you compare it to others in the same vein, such as the series by Diana Wynne jones, which also featured magic school for kids, but never achieved the same level of success, the differences in the way the story is told and the level of detail are very illuminating.

        But thanks for the article. It was good to read. And I agree with the first point. I think the three friends were crucial to what folk loved about HP.

        And yeah, I am sure there are people who have learned good lessons from it, it was a sweeping statement based on the advice I have seen given from industry insiders. And of course its based on what I would like to see, I completely admit that others may feel differently. Room for all tastes, I hope πŸ™‚

  1. Definitely very influential books!

    I love your line, “Unfortunately the lessons that could have been learned from it, weren’t. The depth and texture of this world and the characters within it are up there with the best fantasy in adult literature.”

    I totally agree…I have taken so many lessons from these books (as is evident by my own blog) and yet it seems that many of the lessons are overlooked.

    As you say though, they will certainly become a classic.


      1. Well, my blog is mostly about lessons from HP that we can learn and contemplate. It has been a point of great discussion amongst HP fans and my friends and family as well. πŸ™‚

        I think it helps, when discussing deep issues, to relate them to fiction. It gives people a point of common understanding and it makes really tough things easier to talk about. πŸ™‚

        I look forward to hearing what you think.


      2. P.S. I am a teacher and work a lot with children’s lit…maybe that is why i find the lessons in literature to be so important. πŸ™‚

  2. ah, so you are relating personal experiences through the experiences of the characters? I was coming at it more from a writing point of view- sorry something of a story geek, for lack of a better term.

    I find the complexity and detail and consistency of her writing very unusual. I suppose in terms of life lessons the realism she managed to achieve gives them far more validity and relevance. Too many children’s books and even – well especially, actually – tv shows patronise them, as if there were one simple easy answer, worse they lie!


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